Research flags modern explosion in hand-passing

A recently published study has revealed an explosion in long hand-passing sequences in Gaelic football.

By comparing the 10 All-Ireland senior finals from 1980 to 1989 with the 10 finals and semi-finals (including replays) between 2014 and ’16 using the Sportscode analysis system, researchers found that there are far longer hand-passing sequences in the modern gane.

The longest sequence of hand-passes strung together in the 1980s finals was seven, while in the 2014-16 period, researchers found moves totalling 16 passes.

Research flags modern explosion in hand-passing

The research conducted by Patricia Lynch and Rob Carroll as part of a masters thesis in UL entitled ‘To compare the type of passing in Gaelic football at senior inter-county level historically to modern day’ is published in last month’s edition of The International Journal of Performance Analysis in Sport.

Their work substantiates long-held claims that hand-passing is on the increase. 

In fact, it has doubled — there was an average of eight hand-passes completed per minute in the 2014-16 period, whereas the figure was four for the 1980s. Kick-passing is on the wane to the same degree — down from six per minute to three.

Research flags modern explosion in hand-passing

The study found the ratio of hand-passes to kick-passes is now 2.5:1, compared with 1.6:1 in the 1980s.

The research also threw up some positive news about the entertainment value on offer at the showpiece Gaelic football occasions.

There has been jump of over eight and a half minutes in the amount of time the ball is in play, from approximately 31 minutes and 26 seconds in the 1980s period to roughly 39 minutes now.

Research flags modern explosion in hand-passing

Increased additional time for injuries and substitutions partly explains the rise although the rule-change governing additional time was only made in 2016.

But the hand-pass numbers are the most eye-catching. Just 29% of passing sequences in the 80s included two or more successive hand-passes. The maximum number of seven hand-passes was achieved on just one occasion.

In the games between 2014 and ’16, one sequence of 16 hand-passes was recorded with hundreds of moves producing three or more hand-passes in a row.

“In the 1980s games, three consecutive hand-passes was really the most but now it’s all about ball retention, just don’t give it away, basically,” said Lynch.

“We weren’t really looking at which teams were putting together the most hand-passes because when you’re going to publish you can’t distinguish between the teams. I was told that for ethics I couldn’t touch it. Everyone asks me about the 16 consecutive hand-passes and what team that was but I can’t say. It wasn’t a northern team, that’s all I say.”

Moyvane native Lynch believes the findings go some way to proving the modern game has improved in the sense that more hand-passes and kick-passes are successful nowadays (97% and 81% success rate respectively, compared to 93% and 51% in the 1980s).

In that respect, she found a recent discussion with former Kingdom defender Jimmy Deenihan on Radio Kerry’s Terrace Talk enlightening. “He was on before me and he was asking me about it and he was looking at the successful kick-passes. He was telling me that once they got to a certain point they kicked the ball and it didn’t matter where it went.

“And then of course you had the free kicks, which all had to be taken off the ground. If you won the ball, you won it, whereas now if you kick the ball up the field from the hand and it’s not gathered by a team-mate you’re nearly taken off.”

A frustrating part of Lynch’s work was trying to obtain footage of the 1980s All-Ireland finals. 

“We got onto RTÉ about providing us with games from the 80s but they wanted €123 per game and that was not in the Masters budget at all. We tracked down all the finals – you can buy them on DVD and they’re only €10. I changed the format and that was the only way of getting them really. I thought €123 was disgraceful. It wasn’t as if I was going to sell them on Twitter. I made it clear that they would be the property of the college afterwards but they wouldn’t agree with that.”

Currently teaching functional movement training to children in and around the Tralee area, Lynch is also working as a video analyst with the UL Sigerson Cup team and the Kerry ladies senior side. Interest in her and Carroll’s work has been strong and she hopes to continue Gaelic football research in the university. The new kick-out rule, which states all restarts must cross the 20-metre line and comes into force in the league this evening, piques her curiosity.

“I’m considering doing a study comparing the number of successful and unsuccessful kick-outs in the last three years without the rule to this and the next two but that’s the pipeline. I’m hoping to get into UL in the future but it’s just to get funding because there isn’t much in the video analysis side and you’re at the mercy of the college letting you in and mentioning that you had a paper published.

“I’m keeping a leg in the door and reminding them that I’m good for another four years.”


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